Monday, March 10, 2014

Electronic cigarettes ignite passion and prejudice at Wisconsin legislative hearing

At a time when left-leaning big city governments like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are including e-cigarettes in their smoking bans, Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman and others were hoping to go in a more progressive and free-market direction.

Grothman and a few others show they get it on electronic cigarettes by supporting a bill to exempt them from the statewide tobacco smoking ban in public places. Unfortunately, a minority of nanny-state big government alarmists likely provided just enough doubt or cover for those who don’t get it.

E Cig Werks attended and testified at the March 5 hearing at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis. It was also a convenient trip down memory lane for me as I worked in the Capital back in the mid-1980s, a time when people actually smoked real cigarettes in their offices.

The hearing was a demonstration in the old saying that “there are two things you should never see being made – laws and sausages.”

Several times during the hearing, Grothman explained how his proposal would simply clarify that e-cigs are not part of the smoking ban for businesses like restaurants and taverns, and that businesses could voluntarily ban e-cigs if they so chose.

The first speaker was Vicki McKenna, a conservative Wisconsin radio talk show host and staunch e-cigarette evangelist. McKenna cited her personal experience in using e-cigs to kick a 23-year smoking habit. A strong free-market advocate as you might expect from a conservative, McKenna concluded her remarks saying “electronic cigarettes have the potential to be a public health miracle.”

KristinNoll-Marsh is a fellow blogger who has been a positive e-cigarette voice in Wisconsin for several years. She represents the Consumer Advocates forSmoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) and lauded Wisconsin for “doing it right” by proactively seeks to clarify that e-cigs are not subject to the statewide tobacco smoking ban and “not doing knee-jerk legislation based what e-cigs look like.”

Two speakers from the public health lobby were Murray Katcher and Dr. Michael Fiore, both of whom cited more fear of electronic cigarettes’ potential negative health impact than any proven harm or risk. Fiore actually acknowledged that e-cigs are helping smokers quit tobacco and that they have far fewer toxic chemicals. His main point was that e-cigs are at a similar stage at this time as tobacco cigarettes were in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Katcher also strongly advocated the negative health impact potential of e-cigs, especially for children through second-hand smoke. However, Grothman’s bill is essentially focused on Wisconsin taverns and restaurants, so hopefully that would affect many children. Although, this is Wisconsin.

While I hadn’t originally planned to testify at the hearing, the testimony and atmosphere got me worked up enough to speak. I scrawled a few notes and focused on my blogging experience and the key messages that e-cigs help consumers avoid tobacco, odor and second-hand smoke while reducing nicotine. When Grothman asked me how much I thought e-cigs reduced harmful toxins, I just pointed to the previous testimony from the health experts.

Following another compelling personal story about how e-cigs helped kick a 30-year smoking habit from a Sheboygan, Wis., resident, and a more technical and detailed presentation on the quality of e-cigs from Don Muehlbauer of Securience,LLC, in Wauwatosa, Wis., things went a stranger direction.

An apparent Capitol staffer told a heart-wrenching story about his mother dying after cancer after years of tobacco smoking and referred to e-cigarettes as “a baby death product.” While anyone would empathize with those sentiments and emotion, they really weren’t relevant to the subject of the bill, which was letting private businesses decide if they want to permit the use of e-cigarettes.

Greg Conley of the Heartland Institute then noted a variety of studies supporting the argument that e-cigs have far less toxins than traditional cigarettes, but Wisconsin Senator Fred Risser fixated like a laser on the notion that e-cigs, to which he several times referred to as “emails,” would only attract young people and new users. Conley countered that most e-cig marketing is focused on cigarette smokers and not toward young people.

As the Wisconsin legislative session winds down, it seems unlikely they will even vote on the e-cig bill, much less pass it on to Gov. Scott Walker for a signature. However, at least the public hearings give both sides of the e-cig issue a chance to be heard, and hopefully reason and logic will prevail over fear-mongering and emotion.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Electronic cigarette supporters can use New York City ban debate to get the word out

It was disappointing, but not surprising for electronic cigarette supporters, that the New York city council recently voted to ban e-cig use in public places.

As much as New York City and its people can be very blunt at times, their city government is out of touch with most of its people and reality on the e-cig ban. Electronic cigarette supporters in NYC fought the good fight against the ban, especially on social media channels. However, the odds were against them with a fight against an elite big government body like the New York city council and an accomplice media.

So rather than revisiting a battle already apparently lost, below some of the main arguments against e-cigs by New York politicians followed by some positive answers, messages and strategies to help defend against further and future bans and attacks.

First of all, the overall message should be that electronic cigarettes are providing a choice to help consumers avoid tobacco, odor and second-hand smoke while reducing nicotine levels. They should be fairly and reasonably regulated like other similar consumer products.  

The existence and appearance of electronic cigarettes sends a message that supports and condones tobacco smoking: The facts and common sense show about 20 percent of the population still smokes tobacco after nearly half a century and billions of tax dollars spent demonizing cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes clearly give those smokers the chance and a choice to avoid tobacco, reduce nicotine and quit smoking. It’s possible that some non-smokers will choose e-cigs, but this argument is nothing more than an emotional “smoke screen.”

Electronic cigarettes are not healthy: Most e-cig makers and supporters don’t hide the fact that nicotine vapor has some negative health effects. However, e-cigs can help avoid thousands of toxins and chemicals burned in traditional tobacco cigarettes. According to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, e-cigs contain five basic ingredients, all of them approved by the FDA/EDP for human consumption and already in U.S. food supplies. At least 35 e-cig studies can be cited showing there are not any harmful levels to humans.

There is not enough research or regulation of electronic cigarettes: As noted above, there are studies and research on both sides when it comes to the health impact of e-cigs. However, until there is definitive evidence one way or the other, consumers and the free markets should be allowed to decide. Electronic cigarettes should really be regulated like other somewhat similar consumer products like energy drinks, coffee, or alcohol. For example, nicotine can be considered as both a stimulant and relaxant, and the federal Centers for Disease Control has said e-cigs are “less harmful” than smoking. Finally, research can often be contradictory like recent studies claiming that multivitamins provide no health benefits.

Second-hand smoke, sorry vapor, from electronic cigarettes is harmful: So far, there is really no evidence that second-hand e-cig vapor is harmful. Until credible studies or research prove otherwise, the lack of second-hand “smoke” is actually a major advantage of electronic cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes appeal to youth as a gateway to tobacco smoking: Sadly, banning e-cigs more likely heightens their appeal to youth as a means of rebelling making them seem more “cool.” It’s fine to support banning the sales and use of e-cigs to minors, but it make no sense to ban their overall use in public. At the same time, we don’t see any governments rushing to ban high caffeine energy drinks, which are certainly comparable to electronic cigarettes.

Odor, or lack of it, from electronic cigarettes: The minimal or almost non-existent odor from e-cigs is one of their biggest benefits. One of the biggest complaints from non-smokers and smokers about traditional cigarettes is virtually eliminated with e-cigs. 

Finally, I think one of the best arguments in favor of electronic cigarettes and vaping is having opponents see them up close and personal. I’ve found that some of the strongest supporters of cigarette smoking bans have no problem with e-cigs when they actually see how they work and product little or any odor and second-hand smoke.   

Friday, October 18, 2013

Electronic cigarettes need reasoned regulation

Reason and common sense are words rarely used together when it comes to government regulation. However, those words might actually describe what’s happening lately when it comes to electronic cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes are the result of a combination of the free market innovation to improve a consumer product largely in reaction to serious health concerns, government regulation and taxation.

Various governments from local municipalities to entire countries seem to be struggling with how to regulate and/or tax electronic cigarettes. With the growth of electronic cigarettes increasing dramatically, so do the opportunities and calls for regulation. Wells Fargo Securities recently estimated that electronic cigarette sales could reach $1.7 billion this year with much of that coming online, but with an increasing presence at retail outlets.  

Some in the United States would have the federal government regulate electronic cigarettes just like regular cigarettes. However, since e-cigs are clearly so different from traditional cigarettes, it’s not quite that simple.

What regulators can’t seem to figure out or decide is exactly how to classify electronic cigarettes? Are they more like traditional cigarettes, more of a smoking cessation device, a combination of those two, or something else entirely?

To look further into those questions, let’s examine what electronic cigarettes do: Once inhaled, they deliver a relatively odorless vapor using a small battery and cartomizer/atomizer or filter. The vapor generally consists of solution of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and polyethylene glycol  mixed with varying nicotine levels and flavors. Most are a combination of metal and plastic resembling a traditional cigarette, but others are more like cigars, pipes or hookahs.

What electronic cigarettes do not do is light with a flame, burn or smell. They contain no tobacco or paper, and can be used almost anywhere unless someone objects, which is pretty rare in my experience.

The electronic cigarette regulation debate seems to be divided into three aspects of technical, political and emotional.

We’ve touched on the technical side above, but e-cigs come in a wide variety of options varying from the most basic disposables up to more complicated vapor inhalers, liquids and more. Other choices include almost any flavor imaginable and nicotine levels from high down to zero.

The rapid technical innovation of electronic cigarettes is what is making the political and emotional issues so challenging and controversial.

On the political side, any push to regulate cigarettes is likely limited by many governments having much bigger problems and priorities like shutdowns and debt crisis, and public fatigue and hangover from the last half century of government battles with “big tobacco” over cigarette regulation and taxation.

A recent Washington Post article detailed some of the regulatory issues and major players, particularly the emergence of the big three tobacco companies Altria, Lorillard and Reynolds American in recent months.

After a 2010 Federal court decision that the FDA could not consider electronic cigarettes as drug delivery devices, most of the debate in the U.S. is focused on smaller, local issues like use in public places and sales to minors. As for taxation, the FDA and other governments are again struggling with how to classify e-cigs. The European Union also recently decided to classify e-cigs more like traditional cigarettes than drug delivery devices.

Another major area in question is regulation of electronic cigarette advertising and marketing. As e-cigs ads are becoming more prevalent, they are nowhere near the massive reach of traditional cigarette advertising back in the day. This is likely another area where government has bigger things on its plate and no one is really complaining.

One valid comparison is that electronic cigarettes are similar to energy drinks or even soda or coffee. They all contain varying levels of caffeine, nicotine and more, but have no tobacco and aren’t mind-altering like alcohol, marijuana or others.

Even the most rationale arguments about government regulation and politics often boil down to raw emotion. Traditional cigarettes are easier to demonize because of their lingering odor and negative health concerns.

Some are trying to portray electronic cigarettes through emotional issues like them being a gateway for smokers, especially teenagers, exaggerated dangers of explosion, or recent stories of using them to smoke marijuana.

At some point, electronic cigarette regulation will come down to money. It’s a matter of how much the industry makes, how much government can tax it and whether anyone really cares enough on either side.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Friendly tips on using e-cigs in the real world

With all due respect, electronic cigarettes aren’t just for freaks and geeks anymore.

It seems like there are two customer main customer categories evolving in the electronic cigarette world. “Vapers” tend to be more into the technology, juice flavors and other gadgets in the electronic cigarette markets. Other more traditional consumers tend to gravitate toward lower maintenance products like rechargeable and disposable electronic cigarettes.

Having enjoyed, closely followed and written about electronic cigarettes for the last few years, it’s been refreshing and interesting to see how they have genuinely become more publicly accepted.

Despite the recent war on e-cigs from New York Mayor Bloomberg and some others, most people seem pretty accepting of them in certain public places. To help maintain that level of public support, there are some tips and etiquette for e-cig users and vapers in public from my experience.
Mind your manners: Depending on the setting and your best judgment, it’s usually best to politely ask if it’s ok to vape or use your e-cig, unless you’re absolutely sure that those around you won’t mind. My experience is that most people don’t mind and actually find it kind of interesting.

In the Workplace: We are not quite yet back to the Mad Men mode of the Camelot days where e-cig users can vape in a business meeting, but I think that we’re getting closer to that every day. Otherwise, it’s certainly doable to sneak a few e-cig puffs at your desk or work station, or while walking down a quite hallway or in the break room. More casual workplaces might be more willing to accept e-cig use.

Social settings: Since many of my friends know that I use e-cigs, they are fine with it socially and often curious and might join in. If I’m not as familiar with the present company, I’m less likely to vape just to avoid the hassle.

On the Town: Heading out for a few cocktails is likely the most comfortable public setting to enjoy electronic cigarettes.  After initially asking bartender or server permission the first few times I vaped on the town, I now don’t even bother asking anymore since they almost never mind. I wouldn’t recommend it the dinner table in most restaurants, though.

At the game: Since most big sports stadiums either ban or restrict tobacco smoking, vapers seem to have more options here. Sometimes I mingle in the smoking areas just to see the reaction to my e-cigs. However, it’s also pretty easy to grab a few puffs in the concourses or even in your seats. When it comes to high school or youth sports, it’s probably best not to vape there if it’s not permitted.

With the Kids: I tend to avoid using electronic cigarettes around our children or their friends, although ours are also old enough to understand the difference between e-cigs and real ones. I also usually don’t vape around other people’s children just to avoid awkward questions or situations.

On the Road: One hard and fast rule is to not even think about using an electronic cigarette on a commercial flight. They are banned and not worth the hassle on a plane even if they weren’t. However, airports are pretty much fair game, especially in the bars and restaurants as I’ve almost never been hassled. Similarly, I usually avoid vaping inside buses, trains or taxis, but I have enjoyed local favorite Bedford Slims and others on the famed NYC subways. While they say you can’t smoke in hotels or rental cars, who is ever going to know if your e-cigs have limited odor?

The most basic e-cig ground rule is just to use common sense and courtesy when vaping. With e-cigs clearly becoming more popular and accepted, vapers should do their best to keep the industry going in the right direction whether its V2, Greensmoke, White Cloud, Blu or others.